A deadly child-killing virus has struck New York City. The disease is being spread by cockroaches, so a team of entomologists, led by Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino) engineer a mutant strain they call the Judas breed, with a limited lifespan and without the ability to reproduce, that will kill the ‘roaches. The disease is stopped, and Susan is hailed as the heroine of the city. Three years later, two children bring her a huge bug that they found in the subway. Realizing it’s just a baby, Susan is disconcerted to note that it has bears the same signature as the Judas. This may just be connected to the abandoned church next door to Manny (Giancarlo Giannini) and his son Chuy (Alexander Goodwin), where tall shadowy figures with "funny, funny shoes" has caused several deaths, and left some pretty strange (literal) shit.
Mimic begins brilliantly with a queasily edited title sequence, accompanied by Marco Beltrami’s grand score, that’s basically an insectoid version of Se7ens’. What surprises on repeat viewing is just how long it stays on track – often bordering on genius – before it finally derails in the third act. The original plan for Mimic was apocalyptic, but a worried studio demanded that it be downsized, and the result is a disappointingly conventional (but still decidedly superior) monster movie. The first two thirds or so are terrific, with the dark and mysterious opening giving was to a tense and thrilling series of close encounters in a disused subway system culminated in a pair of attack on a train that rival Aliens for excitement. Unfortunately, at around this point it starts to fall apart. The narrative is not allowed to develop any more, and the final third is simply an extension of the second, but to rather weaker effect. This leaves the audience disappointed, since they’ve begun to think that Mimic is something special, only for it to stop for an over-familiar tale of people trapped in a dark place being killed one by one by a shadowy foe. Having said that, I wish more monster movies could be executed with anything remotely resembling the skill and flair of Mimic.
There is so much to enjoy here. Director Guillermo del Toro is a great visual stylist, and the film contains many startling, memorable images. He shows great use of camera movement and editing in the creation of tension, and delivers some genuine frights and shocks. Given his staunch Catholic upbringing, it’s not hard to detect a certain dark humour to the religious overtones of the story, and particularly using a disused church as one of the entrances to the subway system. He also is allowed to put a bit of personal touches in with the characters of Manny and his son Chuy, who can remarkably mimic any sound, and identify a pair of shoes simply by the sound. And despite the studio interference, he has managed to sneak some pretty gruesome imagery into the film, with nasty internal organs (insect, not human) being smeared on open wounds, and some very weird shit. Overall, there’s more than enough talent on display here to make me wish that del Toro had been given Alien Resurrection instead of the less appropriate Jeunet. Indeed, there are plenty of similarities to the Alien films here – big monsters attacking in dark, shadowy corridors, and the nest structure used by the Aliens is based on the insect structure that is appropriately used here. Sorvino even gets a "get away from the child" moment at the end.
Cinematographer Dan Laustsen gives the film a dark and beautiful look, and Rob Bottins’ creature effects are very good too. Composer Marco Beltrami delivers a terrific score that is by turns grand, aggressive, beautiful, and above all memorably melodic, which I highly recommend seeking out of CD for those who like their scores. Sound is used very effectively too (sound design by Steve Boeddeker of Fight Club), with some particularly creepy effects characterizing the creatures, and maintaining a distinctly creepy feel in the quieter moments. In terms of acting, everyone does a pretty good job, with Sorvino and Jeremy Northam having some nice and surprisingly touching little moments together.
With the release of Guillermo del Toro’s long-awaited Director’s Cut of Mimic on Blu-ray, fans will be afforded at least a fleeting glimpse of the film del Toro wanted to make all along, but, due to studio interference, was unable to. It’s something that’s haunted him since Mimic’s release well over a decade ago, and, while he was obviously not able to shoot his preferred ending or further explore the mythos of his creepy-crawly creations, del Toro was able to dig up enough excised footage to add some depth to his protagonists, as well as hint at a greater threat beyond that of the studio-mandated conclusion. For casual viewers, the changes are subtle enough that they may not even notice a difference, but for true fans of the director’s work, the inclusion of these small-yet-crucial moments will prove most satisfying.
This new cut of Mimic comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Dimension Films via Lionsgate, who present the film in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and, for the most part, the new HD transfer is quite appealing. Being that much of the action takes place in the dark underbelly of the New York City subway system, there is a noticeable amount of black crush and an overabundance of digital noise, but it’s not too distracting, and is more than made up for by the gorgeous and vibrant image we get when the lights are on. Yes, the film’s CGI has shown its age, here, and some of the seams are more apparent under the unflinching eye of high definition, but the same can be said for any film. In terms of audio, Mimic soars, with a bombastic 7.1 DTS HD Master Audio track that will truly give your system a run for its money. From the thunderous rumble of trains and percussive gunshots, all the way down to subtle atmospherics and the clickety-clack “dialect” of the Judas Breed, this is a magnificently mixed and thoroughly immersive track.
Bonus features are a mix of new features exclusive to this set and carry-overs from previous DVD releases.
First up, we get an introduction to the film by del Toro (HD), where the director discusses his somewhat miserable experience making Mimic in remarkably frank manner before expressing his gratitude for being given the chance to revisit the project (despite admitting that it’s still not quite the film he hoped it would be).
He takes this further with an extremely interesting and entertaining commentary track. Here he notes where certain scenes would have been, and discusses the rationale behind their omission. He’s quite the straight shooter, and doesn’t hold back his disdain for the “studio process”, liberally sprinkling in healthy doses of profanity along the way. It’s really eye-opening stuff!
Reclaiming Mimic (HD) is a short featurette detailing del Toro’s mission to recut his film, the reasoning behind it, and the process, itself. It’s essentially an interview piece with snippets of some of the newly restored footage, and much of what’s here is covered in the commentary.
Standard Definition extras include a brief Gag Reel; a creature-featurette entitled A Leap in Evolution, which looks at the design of the Judas Breed in all its incarnations; Back to the Tunnels, which is your standard EPK style making-of, featuring interviews with cast and crew, and a trio of deleted scenes, including a somewhat eerie alternate ending that I actually prefer (and sort of hoped del Toro did, as well). Rounding out the extras are Storyboard Animatics and trailers for other Lionsgate/Dimension releases.
Overall, Mimic is a rather frustrating film that disappoints because of what it could have been. Still, as long as you don’t expect it to be anything more than a big bug movie, you should have a great time, since few films have done it as well. It’s definitely a flawed film, but there are enough moments of brilliance to make it well worth your time. This new cut won’t change anyone’s opinion of the film, but fans will appreciate the added depth of character and additional subplot. The Blu-ray offers a respectable transfer and very impressive audio mix, as well as some truly compelling new extras, making this an essential purchase for del Toro enthusiasts.